Liverpool take on Arsenal in the rearranged first leg of their League Cup semi-final on Thursday night, and they have a great chance to taste domestic cup success this season.
First impressions tend to stay in football, and as far as Jurgen Klopp is concerned, they have often proven difficult to change.
It is widely recognised, not least by the man himself, that the German was blown away by the relentless schedule he faced from the moment he arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, with festive fixtures and the Christmas program in particular proving to be demanding.
Klopp had always seen it from afar, and in fact in Germany they refer to any week in which a team plays three times – weekend, midweek and then weekend again – as an ‘English week’. “, but being in the middle blew it away somewhat.
Less than three months after joining the club, he saw his side win 1-0 at Sunderland in the Premier League on December 30, lose 2-0 at West Ham on January 2, win the first leg of a semi-final Ligue’s cup. final in Stoke on January 5, then descend to Exeter with a shadow team in the FA Cup on January 8. He was memorably interviewed under the watchful eye of the tea ladies at St James Park in the latter game.
The fact that those Stoke and Exeter matches then needed second matches to settle them – a second leg for the first and a replay for the second – seemed to baffle the Liverpool manager, but he clearly enjoys the rite of a little guy to take on the big boys, something he used to do when he was in Mainz.
Liverpool managed both chances to lose to Manchester City on penalties in the League Cup final and then to West Ham after an FA Cup fourth round replay. Then came another run to the League Cup semi-finals the following season, and a 2-0 aggregate loss to Southampton.
And after that…well, not so much.
Klopp’s outspoken opinions on winter facility congestion are now well known, but also widely shared by just about every top boss, although some opinions are less reported than others.
For the Liverpool boss, a narrative has taken hold that he seeks to manage disruption and match build-ups by ‘disrespecting’ domestic cups.
With the rather unique situation that was Shrewsbury Town’s 2020 fourth round draw taken out of the equation – a game won by Liverpool, remember – it’s a theory that doesn’t really hold up.
Indeed, with the exception of the home defeat in the FA Cup fourth round against a Wolves side and then in the Championship in 2017, then a loss against a West Brom side destined for relegation the following year , the defeats that Liverpool have often suffered in domestic cup competitions under Klopp are fairly unsurprising given the nature of the draws and the idea that everyone rotates to some degree.
In 2017-18 there was Leicester in the League Cup, then in 2018-19 Premier League Wolves are now in the FA Cup and Chelsea in the League Cup.
The following season it was Chelsea again in the old competition, and Villa in the League Cup when the first team was unavailable, then last season Liverpool were knocked out of the competitions by Arsenal and Manchester United . Barely killed by a giant.
This season things are opening up for the Reds, with some of the nicest draws they have received.
Norwich, Preston and Leicester were beaten en route to the League Cup semi-finals, with Shrewsbury seen in the FA Cup and a fourth-round draw at home to Cardiff to come.
Arsenal wait in the first leg of the League Cup semi-finals on Thursday, and with selection problems looking to be increasing for Mikel Arteta just as they are diminishing for Klopp, using the atmosphere at Anfield for the draw could see the Reds look to build an unassailable advantage. A Wembley final could open for the first time in six years.
With the Premier League title looking increasingly out of reach and a Champions League from next month, there is a growing sense that the cups are as important to Liverpool this season as they ever have been. been under Klopp and Fenway Sports Group.
Both know the value of adding trophies to highlight the huge progress they have made, as they are surely increasingly aware that they won’t be at Liverpool forever.